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The Thing In The Pit







From: The House On The Borderland

This house is, as I have said before, surrounded by a huge estate, and
wild and uncultivated gardens.

Away at the back, distant some three hundred yards, is a dark, deep
ravine--spoken of as the 'Pit,' by the peasantry. At the bottom runs a
sluggish stream so overhung by trees as scarcely to be seen from above.

In passing, I must explain that this river has a subterranean origin,
emerging suddenly at the East end of the ravine, and disappearing, as
abruptly, beneath the cliffs that form its Western extremity.

It was some months after my vision (if vision it were) of the great
Plain that my attention was particularly attracted to the Pit.

I happened, one day, to be walking along its Southern edge, when,
suddenly, several pieces of rock and shale were dislodged from the face
of the cliff immediately beneath me, and fell with a sullen crash
through the trees. I heard them splash in the river at the bottom; and
then silence. I should not have given this incident more than a passing
thought, had not Pepper at once begun to bark savagely; nor would he be
silent when I bade him, which is most unusual behavior on his part.

Feeling that there must be someone or something in the Pit, I went back
to the house, quickly, for a stick. When I returned, Pepper had ceased
his barks and was growling and smelling, uneasily, along the top.

Whistling to him to follow me, I started to descend cautiously. The
depth to the bottom of the Pit must be about a hundred and fifty feet,
and some time as well as considerable care was expended before we
reached the bottom in safety.

Once down, Pepper and I started to explore along the banks of the
river. It was very dark there due to the overhanging trees, and I moved
warily, keeping my glance about me and my stick ready.

Pepper was quiet now and kept close to me all the time. Thus, we
searched right up one side of the river, without hearing or seeing
anything. Then, we crossed over--by the simple method of jumping--and
commenced to beat our way back through the underbrush.

We had accomplished perhaps half the distance, when I heard again the
sound of falling stones on the other side--the side from which we had
just come. One large rock came thundering down through the treetops,
struck the opposite bank, and bounded into the river, driving a great
jet of water right over us. At this, Pepper gave out a deep growl; then
stopped, and pricked up his ears. I listened, also.

A second later, a loud, half-human, half-piglike squeal sounded from
among the trees, apparently about halfway up the South cliff. It was
answered by a similar note from the bottom of the Pit. At this, Pepper
gave a short, sharp bark, and, springing across the little river,
disappeared into the bushes.

Immediately afterward, I heard his barks increase in depth and number,
and in between there sounded a noise of confused jabbering. This ceased,
and, in the succeeding silence, there rose a semi-human yell of agony.
Almost immediately, Pepper gave a long-drawn howl of pain, and then the
shrubs were violently agitated, and he came running out with his tail
down, and glancing as he ran over his shoulder. As he reached me, I saw
that he was bleeding from what appeared to be a great claw wound in the
side that had almost laid bare his ribs.

Seeing Pepper thus mutilated, a furious feeling of anger seized me,
and, whirling my staff, I sprang across, and into the bushes from which
Pepper had emerged. As I forced my way through, I thought I heard a
sound of breathing. Next instant, I had burst into a little clear space,
just in time to see something, livid white in color, disappear among the
bushes on the opposite side. With a shout, I ran toward it; but, though
I struck and probed among the bushes with my stick, I neither saw nor
heard anything further; and so returned to Pepper. There, after bathing
his wound in the river, I bound my wetted handkerchief 'round his body;
having done which, we retreated up the ravine and into the
daylight again.

On reaching the house, my sister inquired what had happened to Pepper,
and I told her he had been fighting with a wildcat, of which I had heard
there were several about.

I felt it would be better not to tell her how it had really happened;
though, to be sure, I scarcely knew myself; but this I did know, that
the thing I had seen run into the bushes was no wildcat. It was much too
big, and had, so far as I had observed, a skin like a hog's, only of a
dead, unhealthy white color. And then--it had run upright, or nearly so,
upon its hind feet, with a motion somewhat resembling that of a human
being. This much I had noticed in my brief glimpse, and, truth to tell,
I felt a good deal of uneasiness, besides curiosity as I turned the
matter over in my mind.

It was in the morning that the above incident had occurred.

Then, it would be after dinner, as I sat reading, that, happening to
look up suddenly, I saw something peering in over the window ledge the
eyes and ears alone showing.

'A pig, by Jove!' I said, and rose to my feet. Thus, I saw the thing
more completely; but it was no pig--God alone knows what it was. It
reminded me, vaguely, of the hideous Thing that had haunted the great
arena. It had a grotesquely human mouth and jaw; but with no chin of
which to speak. The nose was prolonged into a snout; thus it was that
with the little eyes and queer ears, gave it such an extraordinarily
swinelike appearance. Of forehead there was little, and the whole face
was of an unwholesome white color.

For perhaps a minute, I stood looking at the thing with an ever growing
feeling of disgust, and some fear. The mouth kept jabbering, inanely,
and once emitted a half-swinish grunt. I think it was the eyes that
attracted me the most; they seemed to glow, at times, with a horribly
human intelligence, and kept flickering away from my face, over the
details of the room, as though my stare disturbed it.

It appeared to be supporting itself by two clawlike hands upon the
windowsill. These claws, unlike the face, were of a clayey brown hue,
and bore an indistinct resemblance to human hands, in that they had four
fingers and a thumb; though these were webbed up to the first joint,
much as are a duck's. Nails it had also, but so long and powerful that
they were more like the talons of an eagle than aught else.

As I have said, before, I felt some fear; though almost of an
impersonal kind. I may explain my feeling better by saying that it was
more a sensation of abhorrence; such as one might expect to feel, if
brought in contact with something superhumanly foul; something
unholy--belonging to some hitherto undreamt of state of existence.

I cannot say that I grasped these various details of the brute at the
time. I think they seemed to come back to me, afterward, as though
imprinted upon my brain. I imagined more than I saw as I looked at the
thing, and the material details grew upon me later.

For perhaps a minute I stared at the creature; then as my nerves
steadied a little I shook off the vague alarm that held me, and took a
step toward the window. Even as I did so, the thing ducked and vanished.
I rushed to the door and looked 'round hurriedly; but only the tangled
bushes and shrubs met my gaze.

I ran back into the house, and, getting my gun, sallied out to search
through the gardens. As I went, I asked myself whether the thing I had
just seen was likely to be the same of which I had caught a glimpse in
the morning. I inclined to think it was.

I would have taken Pepper with me; but judged it better to give his
wound a chance to heal. Besides, if the creature I had just seen was, as
I imagined, his antagonist of the morning, it was not likely that he
would be of much use.

I began my search, systematically. I was determined, if it were
possible, to find and put an end to that swine-thing. This was, at
least, a material Horror!

At first, I searched, cautiously; with the thought of Pepper's wound in
my mind; but, as the hours passed, and not a sign of anything living,
showed in the great, lonely gardens, I became less apprehensive. I felt
almost as though I would welcome the sight of it. Anything seemed better
than this silence, with the ever-present feeling that the creature might
be lurking in every bush I passed. Later, I grew careless of danger, to
the extent of plunging right through the bushes, probing with my gun
barrel as I went.

At times, I shouted; but only the echoes answered back. I thought thus
perhaps to frighten or stir the creature to showing itself; but only
succeeded in bringing my sister Mary out, to know what was the matter. I
told her, that I had seen the wildcat that had wounded Pepper, and that
I was trying to hunt it out of the bushes. She seemed only half
satisfied, and went back into the house, with an expression of doubt
upon her face. I wondered whether she had seen or guessed anything. For
the rest of the afternoon, I prosecuted the search anxiously. I felt
that I should be unable to sleep, with that bestial thing haunting the
shrubberies, and yet, when evening fell, I had seen nothing. Then, as I
turned homeward, I heard a short, unintelligible noise, among the bushes
to my right. Instantly, I turned, and, aiming quickly, fired in the
direction of the sound. Immediately afterward, I heard something
scuttling away among the bushes. It moved rapidly, and in a minute had
gone out of hearing. After a few steps I ceased my pursuit, realizing
how futile it must be in the fast gathering gloom; and so, with a
curious feeling of depression, I entered the house.

That night, after my sister had gone to bed, I went 'round to all the
windows and doors on the ground floor; and saw to it that they were
securely fastened. This precaution was scarcely necessary as regards the
windows, as all of those on the lower storey are strongly barred; but
with the doors--of which there are five--it was wisely thought, as not
one was locked.

Having secured these, I went to my study, yet, somehow, for once, the
place jarred upon me; it seemed so huge and echoey. For some time I
tried to read; but at last finding it impossible I carried my book down
to the kitchen where a large fire was burning, and sat there.

I dare say, I had read for a couple of hours, when, suddenly, I heard a
sound that made me lower my book, and listen, intently. It was a noise
of something rubbing and fumbling against the back door. Once the door
creaked, loudly; as though force were being applied to it. During those
few, short moments, I experienced an indescribable feeling of terror,
such as I should have believed impossible. My hands shook; a cold sweat
broke out on me, and I shivered violently.

Gradually, I calmed. The stealthy movements outside had ceased.

Then for an hour I sat silent and watchful. All at once the feeling of
fear took me again. I felt as I imagine an animal must, under the eye of
a snake. Yet now I could hear nothing. Still, there was no doubting that
some unexplained influence was at work.

Gradually, imperceptibly almost, something stole on my ear--a sound
that resolved itself into a faint murmur. Quickly it developed and grew
into a muffled but hideous chorus of bestial shrieks. It appeared to
rise from the bowels of the earth.

I heard a thud, and realized in a dull, half comprehending way that I
had dropped my book. After that, I just sat; and thus the daylight found
me, when it crept wanly in through the barred, high windows of the
great kitchen.

With the dawning light, the feeling of stupor and fear left me; and I
came more into possession of my senses.

Thereupon I picked up my book, and crept to the door to listen. Not a
sound broke the chilly silence. For some minutes I stood there; then,
very gradually and cautiously, I drew back the bolt and opening the door
peeped out.

My caution was unneeded. Nothing was to be seen, save the grey vista of
dreary, tangled bushes and trees, extending to the distant plantation.

With a shiver, I closed the door, and made my way, quietly, up to bed.





Next: The Swine-things

Previous: The Earth



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